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Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History

Photo of a groundhog, Courtesy of Gettyimages
Courtesy of Gettyimages

Every February 2, a crowd of thousands gathers at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to await a special forecast from a groundhog named Phil. If the 20-pound groundhog emerges and sees his shadow, the United States can expect six more weeks of winter weather, according to legend. But, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, we can expect warmer temperatures and the arrival of an early spring.

Even though he’s been forecasting since 1887, Phil’s track record for the entire country isn’t perfect. To determine just how accurate he is, we’ve compared U.S. national temperatures with Phil’s forecasts. On average, Phil has gotten it right 40% of the time over the past 10 years.

Phil’s 2022 Forecast

In 2022, Phil forecast a "long winter" when he saw his shadow and predicted an additional six weeks of wintry temperatures. In fact, the contiguous United States saw slightly below average temperatures in February and above average temperatures in March of last year. Phil was 50/50 on his forecast.

The average contiguous U.S. temperature during February 2022 was 33.7°F. It was 0.2°F below the 20th century average. 2022 was the 63rd-coldest February in the 127-year period of record.

February 2022 was slightly below average across the contiguous U.S. Temperatures were below average across portions of the Upper Mississippi Valley as well as from the central Rockies to the Gulf Coast. Temperatures were above average across portions of the West Coast and from the Southeast to New England. The Alaska statewide February temperature was 8.6°F, which is 3.8°F above the long-term average. 

March 2022 was warm in the contiguous U.S. The average temperature was 44.1°F, 2.6°F above the 20th-century average. A cold-air outbreak stretched across the central U.S. during the second week of March. Despite the cold spell, temperatures for the month were above average across much of the West and from the Midwest to the East Coast; temperatures were below average in areas along the western Gulf Coast during March. Alaska had an average temperature of 16.6°F, which is 5.8°F above the long-term average.

Phil’s First Forecast

In 1887, when he made his debut as the official groundhog forecaster for the entire country, Phil saw his shadow. His first prediction of six more weeks of winter was accurate for a few regions, but it came up short for several others.

According to the February 1887 Monthly Weather Review, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and West saw temperatures well below normal. The Southeast and Gulf states saw temperatures well above normal during the month. And, according to the March 1887 Monthly Weather Review, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, Ohio Valley, and Southeast saw temperatures well below normal. Areas west of the Mississippi River valley saw temperatures above normal.

Predicting the Arrival of Spring Is Difficult

Predicting the arrival of springtime for an entire country, especially one with such varied regional climates as the United States, isn’t easy! Phil’s track record is evidence of that. However, if you’re interested in doing your own analysis for your region, check out our Climate at a Glance tool to access historical U.S. monthly temperature data. More of Phil’s past predictions are also available from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

For an overview of some fun facts about Groundhog Day and the accuracy of the furry forecaster, check out our infographic.

To see the latest climate outlooks, visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. For the current weather forecast in your area, check out your local National Weather Service forecast office.